Is it impossible for a child to graduate from college free and clear of debt? Nobody even talks about a “debt-free” matriculation. Most of us just assume that graduation and debt go hand-in-hand.

According to the Project on Student Debt, the average debt level for graduating seniors with student loans rose to $23,200 in 2008 – a 24% increase from $18,650 in 2004. What’s more, 67% of students graduating from four-year colleges and universities have student debt. Add to this debt load the inevitable credit card debt kids accumulate and well, it’s getting harder to defend the decision to get a college education if the price is really that high – especially in light of the grim prospects of getting a decent job once you graduate.

Many college students today who take on student debt see no way around this mess. Citing “no parental support” nor access to funding from the university they have chosen, they face only one other option – loans from Sallie Mae.  “A couple of months before I moved East, I examined my finances,” writes Emily Schmitt in her story “Student Loans: A Bitter Financial Lesson.” “I had two options: first, not to go to grad school; and second, to fund most of my education with student loans. NYU ain’t cheap. My tuition runs upwards of $15,000 per semester,” she explained.

Emily took out the loans. Emily felt she “had no alternatives.” Really Emily?

Here’s a thought: Work and save and then go to grad school. Or, find a cheaper grad school. Admittedly this is easier advice to take when it comes to a post graduate degree – but what about college? Should kids wait if they cannot afford to go to school? Should they work and save and then attend? 

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Written by Susan Beacham
Susan Beacham founded Money Savvy Generation in 1999 after almost two decades in private banking and investment management complemented by considerable time teaching at the elementary level.

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